Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Having children with a big age gap and the stuff nobody tells you

"Oh, is he your little surprise? Ha ha ha!"

"Is he from the same husband as your other two, if you don't mind my asking?"

I've gotten used to the questions—they don't faze me. What continues to take me by surprise: the dynamics of juggling children with a big age gap. Sabrina just turned 14, Max is 16 and Ben is 3. Our family feels complete...and also, at times, like a circus.

This is the stuff nobody told me about having children with a large age gap. Not that I asked.

You delude yourself into thinking you already have all the baby stuff  

The drop-side crib we had for our first two was actually a death trap, according to the Safety Product Commission people. Their stroller is long gone. And you wouldn't think baby clothes would look that outdated in a decade, but they sure do. So we basically started from scratch with baby clothes and gear. It was fun, other than having to decide between the eleventy billion things that didn't exist last time around, and paying for them.

You become a born-again mom

When Ben was a baby, Dave and I were like new parents all over again—we did not remember much of anything about childcare. This was evident from the day Ben arrived home from the hospital and we had to google "How to give a newborn a bath." Then we roped in Sabrina and Max to help. Cleaning bottles, sleep training, the timing for baby milestones: no recall whatsoever. The momnesia continues now that Ben's a preschooler: Wait, why's he having temper tantrums at age 3? What is up with catching nasty stomach bugs at preschool? Why does he love putting his fingers by the cabinet door hinges? Why will he only pee in the potty? Oh, wait, this sounds vaguely familiar (a phenomenon known as deja poo).

The schedules are out of control

Sabrina has basketball. Max needs to go to a program. Ben's coming along for the ride. Getting everyone to their activities leaves me dazed. I knew to expect this, but still: OMGeeeee. When other parents offer to drive one of my children somewhere, it's like I won the lottery.

Trying to find something all our children want to do? Bwaaaaaa ha ha ha ha

On weekends, DH and I are usually in conquer-and-divide mode because there's just no figuring out an activity one preschooler and two teens will be into. If Ben has a little-kid birthday party, I'll take him and Dave will hang with one or both of our other two. Or Sabrina will stay home to slog through schoolwork, and the rest of us will do something intellectually stimulating like shop at Target. Dining out is pretty much the one outing we can do as a family, although we no longer go to nice restaurants because:


As if dealing with the hormones of a teen girl and a teen boy aren't enough, I am also faced with the  a preschooler dictator who is prone to screeching "YOU NO DO THAT!" and "YOU NO SAY THAT!" Then there are the times when Sabrina and I are having it out because I'm being mean and making her clean her room or something and poor Ben is witness to it. "No lelling!" he'll say. ("No yelling!") And I'll wonder how many years of therapy Ben is in for.

It's great having a built-in babysitter...except when your child acts like she's the mother

Ben's big sister is his BFF. He runs to the door with a squeal when Sabrina, aka "Mena," gets home from school. He sits on her bed and chills while she does homework. She watches him when I go out to do errands, plays with him when I'm cleaning up around the house, gives him baths, loves picking out his outfits and is generally an awesome big sister. And then, there are the times when she decides she is actually his mother.

Me at 6:30 p.m.: "Ben needs a good snack, he didn't eat so much today."
Sabrina: "Benny, want some ice-cream?"
Me: "It's not a good idea for him to have so much sugar before bedtime."
Sabrina: "But the sugar will fatten him up!"
Me: 😳

Then there's the sibling rivalry

"Mommmmmy, I need you to build a tower !" That is Ben asserting himself at the exact moment that I've sat down to help Max with his homework at the kitchen table. Reasoning with a three-year-old is impossible. And so Ben will wail as Max attempts to get through his worksheets. Ben also does not like it when Max or Sabrina walk downstairs before him, when they get into the car before him, when they do anything before him. You wouldn't think there'd be much rivalry when two kids are 13 years apart. But.

Some of your child's bad influences are right at home

Our little guy ends up watching and listening to stuff way beyond his years when I'm not paying attention. Which explains why his favorite song is a rap song called Steal Her Man. He has substituted some nicer words.

There's a whole new generation of TV fights 

For years, Max and Sabrina duked it out for the Battle of the Remote Control. She wanted to watch teen sitcoms. He wanted to beam YouTube videos of fire trucks onto the screen. Now Sabrina's glued to Instagram, and Max and Ben go at it. The other day, as Ben tried to watch Sesame Street, Max stood in front of the TV with his arms outstretched to block it. Ben, meanwhile, likes to grab the remote control when Max is watching TV, turn it off and run away with it. Good times.

You will still be forced to endure the torture known as Thomas the Tank 

How is it possible Thomas the Tank is still on TV and kids still like watching him? Not. Fair.

You suck even more at sleep deprivation

Ben gets up at 5:30 a.m. because he didn't get the third-kid memo and Dave, my angel husband, gets up with him. And when Dave goes away on business and it's me rolling out of bed at that ungodly hour, I am all I am too old for this.

Sometimes, it gets lonely

My longtime friends have middle- and high-school-age kids, so playdates are pretty much out of the question. Then there's the fact that I'm going through stages they can no longer relate to. When we all had young kids, we sat around and talked about potty-training, pacifier obsessions and other challenges, but that just doesn't cut it as dinner conversation anymore.

There are now three human beings who think you are the worst and who happen to be your flesh and blood

"I hate you!" says Max.

"You're the worst mother ever!" hisses Sabrina.

"Mommy not nice!" says Ben.

But then...

Your little one is the best gift ever, for everyone.

No matter what chaos is going on, there's Ben—our feisty, funny, adorable, big-eyed, kissy-lipped, wise-beyond-his-years sweet boy. We each have our own special relationship with him.

Right after we brought him home

A toddler daddy all over again

On our last vacation

At Ben's third birthday party

I love how Dave, Max, Sabrina and I look at each other and crack up whenever Ben says something adorable.

I love the cuteness overload when I see Sabrina or Max playing with Ben.

I love the way Max looks after him.

I love when we teach him to do random stuff, like giving the side eye (oh, yes, we did).

You're a more chill mom. 

Some also refer to this as Third Child Syndrome. He's eating off the floor? NBD. Walking around in dirty clothes? About to jump off the bookshelf? Whatever.

You relish a thousand little things you never thought you'd do again with a little person

It's all amazing: pushing Ben on the swing at the park, rolling toy trains around tracks, doing This Little Piggie on his toes and pretending to take his nose, singing Laurie Berkner songs in the car, making Play-doh creations, sleep-stalking him because he looks so sweet, seeing the sheer delight on his face when he's on a swing or gets a lollipop, walking down the street and holding his little hand, answering his constant "why?" questions, chatting with him in the car, cuddling on the couch and watching Sesame Street, coloring pictures on the kitchen table, getting his hair cut with little-boy bangs, making up nonsense songs or just listening to him talk in his little voice,  the way he runs into my arms when I pick him up from preschool, reading to him at bedtime in the same rocking chair I had for for my olders. Oh, the snuggling.


We had the right girl/boy ratio to do this on Halloween.

Not to mention!

People like the guy at the pizza store where I take Ben every Friday after preschool, who upon finding out that I have two teens said, "Wow! You look so young!"

Life is a wacky whirlwind. And I wouldn't trade it for anything.


  1. Love your insights! The running and scheduling would have happened with three kids no matter the age gap. You are a great mom!

    1. True, three kids is a handful no matter what their ages!

  2. I hear you! We had a bar mitzvah and a baby naming the same year. It's been fun though!

  3. My brother was 14 years old when I was born. For a long time he felt like my brother, but also a second-line parent, or ... after he left home to go to college ... like a favorite cousin from some distance away. Later on when we were both adults, he became more fully my brother, at least to me. It's an interesting dynamic, and my disabilities made it a little more interesting for both of us, and for my parents ... yet maybe not as different as one might think. I expect that you will further enjoy watching your age gap "children" evolve their relationship as they all reach adulthood, and even middle age.

  4. Your kids are so sweet! There's a four-year gap between my two children and I'm amazed how much we "forgot" about having a newborn, so I can't imagine how you and your husband felt!!! If you don't mind my asking, how old were you when you had Ben?

  5. Love this! Our two "only children" as we often call them are nearly 16 years apart, so really only lived in the same house a couple of years. I was planning high school graduation and potty training at the same time so I totally get it. She entered kindergarten as he finished college.
    He is now married and they still have a great relationship, I love watching them together. At 8 and 24, it's definitely surprising how the sibling rivalry still sometimes exists. ;)
    The one thing not mentioned here that I've also dealt with is the reality of also dealing with the failing health of a parent. At one point, I kept questioning how many life stages I could truly juggle and keep my sanity.


Thanks for sharing!

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